As reported in many past reviews, Thomas Fey is the good-cop-bad-cop traffic director of Haydn symphonies. Some of his performances have been marvelous (No. 60 in C, “Il distratto”), some dreadful (I try to forget which ones). This disc is inconsistent more for its recorded sound than for Fey’s leadership. Symphony No. 89 gets a bright, juicy recording (from Internationale Naturhornakademie, Bad Dürkheim); this orchestra has seldom sounded so sweet and winning. The other works were recorded by the same team about a week earlier (all in May 2012) in the Gesellschaftshaus, Heidelberg-Pfaffengrund; but by comparison, the ensemble here sounds dull and distant.
The performance of No. 89 is also fresh and alive, if not as elegant as that by Dennis Russell Davies in Sony’s complete set. For once, Fey doesn’t race through a finale (Vivace assai) too rapidly for his troops to follow. I’ll give the nod to Fey, on the basis of the recorded sound. Ádám Fischer’s performance is very similar to Fey’s; recorded in the Haydnsaal of the Esterházy Palace in Eisenstadt, its sound is lovely but a touch too reverberant.
All three rebut this symphony’s reputation as one of Haydn’s lesser ones—how did that view ever get started?
Fey plays the Largo introduction of Symphony No. 102 at an appropriate speed, but in the Vivace body of the first movement his tempos are all over the lot. The orchestral execution is excellent, with fierce attacks appropriate for Haydn’s grandest symphony. Fey’s Adagio is very fast, the Menuetto even more so; the Trio is very slow, and Fey allows his first oboe to embellish during its repeat. The Presto finale races along as advertised. Despite Fey’s inconsistencies and my several nits, there is much excitement throughout the performance, which lives up to fine ones by Scherchen, Klemperer, Bernstein, and Colin Davis—whose Concertgebouw outplays every other ensemble, in a crisp, fast reading.
Something of the same may be said about the Sinfonia Concertante: Tempos are a bit unsteady, but the playing is adventurous, with Fey’s usual aggressive tuttis. The soloists—Woitek Garbowski, violin; Pirkko Langer, cello; Andrius Puskunigis, oboe; Michael Kaulartz, bassoon—don’t blend well (which is mostly Haydn’s fault for choosing these four instruments) and occasionally get out of sync, but they each play with a lively spirit and never hold back. The result is a wild and whacky performance, one most fitting for this charming late work. Russell Davies’s performance is better balanced and offers more consistent music-making, but those qualities are not essential here. All in all, this disc is one of the best of Fey’s Haydn symphony series. Reexamining the five volumes that I have kept, I see that they were recorded in many different venues. My advice to Fey, Hänssler Classics, and its engineering team: Get back to Bad Dürkheim, and stay there.
Fanfare Magazine Issue 36:4 (Mar/Apr 2013)
Does anyone really know or care about Symphony No. 57? Well, you should. First of all, it's a large piece, some 30 minutes with repeats observed. Second, as played here, with Haydn's original timpani part restored, it's sensationally exciting. The articulation of the strings in the prestissimo finale has to be heard to be believed--but then every movement reveals Haydn's inspiration operating at typically high voltage.
Both the "Fire" Symphony and No. 65 also feature virtuoso finales, with brilliant horn writing that Thomas Fey's players obviously relish. But the slow movements also delight (and never drag), and Fey's use of the harpsichord continuo, a habit that has no basis in historical fact and sounds just plain vile most of the time, is a model for how it should be done. He generally restricts the instrument to tutti passages (which of course renders its participation even more pointless) or touches in an important bass line, but never turns what ought to be a discreet accompaniment into a concertante extravaganza.
Generally speaking the playing is so astoundingly exciting that even this caveat matters not a whit. You will come away from these performances simply astounded by the richness and vitality of Haydn's inexhaustible powers of invention, which is exactly as it should be. Buy this brilliantly engineered disc, savor it, and look forward to the next installment.
Fey's performance is stunning: bold, brilliant, with big contrasts and terrific playing from every department, particularly the horns (e.g. those brash interruptions in the adagio). It's just terrific.
If this is second-rate Haydn, it's still miles beyond what anyone else was doing at the time, and in a performance as pointed as this one (check out the string articulation in the concluding prestissimo finale), criticism is simply disarmed. The brief Overture in D makes a dazzling encore, and the sonics are perfect. Stunning.
Volume 10 of Thomas Fey’s complete recording of Haydn’s symphonies is a resounding success. Aided and abetted by his ebullient little orchestra, Fey pays scrupulous attention to phrasing and sharpens the dynamic contrasts. Indeed, in terms of phrasing this new disc displays the same inventive ingenuity as Fey’s magnificent interpretation of Symphony No. 88.
Presto markings always provoke a surge of adrenalin in this conductor and here his response is reminiscent of Hermann Scherchen’s scintillating first version of the Military Symphony. He is notable for the way he enriches Haydn’s famous musical humour with an additional, almost heady dimension. But this is not all. He gives the minuets the necessary weight, and the tender intimacy he finds in the 5th movement of Symphony No. 60 is a delight.
Some may find the rather blaring quality of the brass a little difficult to get used to (in the Minuet of No. 60, for example) but this is a small price to pay for the exquisite phrasing, the contrasts, the humour (try the scintillating last movement of No. 61!) and also the muted, superbly nuanced simplicity of the slow movements. All in all, the disc is an explosive reminder of the telling contrasts to be found in Haydn’s symphonic works.
Fey’s declared aim is to open the listener’s ears to the audacity and the beauty of the emotional side of Haydn’s music and the telling nature of the amazing contrasts to be found in it. In Volume 10 his success in this enterprise is truly stunning. This is not just a matter of the frequently headlong impetus he gives to this music. The mixture of modern strings and woodwinds with period-style brass makes for an extremely vivid and dramatic rendering, caught to perfection by the recording.
In both symphonies Fey attributes cardinal importance to the rhythmic element. This is particularly notable in the outer movements, wonderfully fleet-footed and transparent. The middle movements of No. 61 are equally remarkable, the Minuet marvellously insouciant, the slow movement’s undemonstrative introversion beautifully caught. Perhaps the most arresting quality of these interpretations is the uncompromising concern to make dynamic contrasts as incisive as possible without indulging in the eccentricities affected by other historically informed versions of Haydn’s works.
Haydn lovers take note: the latest (and dare I say greatest!) recording from Thomas Fey and his Heidelberg Symphony Orchestra is now here and it is, once again, a disc worth celebrating. It's not enough to say you can't go wrong with this series - it is only right to make sure you've got every one of these CDs in your music library.
Fey takes risks, provides variety and an element of showmanship, but all intelligently applied, to create the most vibrant Haydn performances I’ve heard for a long time.
Recording of the month 08/2008
Recording of the year 2008
Fey’s great talent as a conductor is reflected by his awareness that these features not only serve a humorous purpose but are in fact the source of major dramatic tension. He highlights both these aspects with supreme intelligence. There is humour galore, particularly in the “Hunt” symphony, but it is laced with sometimes lacerating irony superbly projected by the incisive string playing and a sustained rhythmical focus. Played thus, the last movement sounds less like the traditional evocation of a hunt and more like an animated cartoon by Tex Avery.
On the other hand, Fey’s seriousness of purpose can almost become chilling. Take the incessant repetition of the same note in the last movement of No. 70. Nothing humorous about this, quite the opposite. It brings home to us that this finale revolves entirely around the insistent recurrence of this obsessive rhythmic cell, a ploy that Beethoven was soon to take up in his symphonies. By contrast, the slow movements are full of emotion recollected in tranquillity, notably the exquisite Andante of No. 70.
The trenchant phrasing, the strings’ uncompromising détaché bowing and the sometimes strident brass all pose a challenge to our listening habits. But Fey manages to revolutionise our image of Haydn as few have done before him, including his teacher Harnoncourt. And his eminently musical logic carries the day. My prediction is that, on the third hearing at the latest, you will be as convinced as I am that what we have here is a completely new vision of the composer.
Enter Thomas Fey, whose leadership of the Heidelberger Sinfoniker and collaboration with Hanssler Classics not only keeps listeners at the edge of their seats throughout each album, but leaves them craving the release of the next installment. The orchestra's sound — produced by modern strings and winds with period brass and timpani — is utterly scintillating. String articulation is clean and precise, the timpani is punchy without overwhelming, and the brass are piercing and appropriately shrill, immediately convincing listeners that Fey's decision to use period instruments here is a brilliant one. Fey's vision of Haydn is one of unabashed energy and vitality, and all of his musical decisions — from dynamics to tempo choice — are made with Haydn's original intentions in mind.
Germany’s orchestras, even those from smaller towns like Heidelberg, are astounding in their quality and professionalism. Headiness, visceral excitement and complete transparency are the key features of the instalments of Fey’s complete symphony edition that we have had so far. His total commitment to this corner of the repertory is never in doubt. The insouciance with which he turns his back on the image of Haydn as a periwigged producer of off-the-peg symphonies strips the works of the odium of dull repetitiveness that so often creeps in at the hands of lesser conductors.
The perennial question is how Haydn should be played. Mainstream conductors often treat Haydn’s use of the orchestra, notably timpani and woodwind, as if he were closer to Handel than anyone else. Period specialists, on the other hand, tend to play down the romanticism clearly emerging in the composer’s later symphonies. Fey offers a third alternative. He certainly blows the cobwebs off the traditional romanticising view of Haydn. But at the same time his mixture of modern wind and strings with period brass and timpani cocks a snook at the dogmatic claims to authenticity asserted by the period fraternity.
A delight from beginning to end! I have not always been fully convinced by Thomas Fey’s interpretations but this is truly miraculous.
True, Fey’s approach is still as punchy as it ever was (sometimes bordering on the tearaway), but there is also much sensitivity and a lot of attention to detail, while the sculpting of accents is often wildly thrilling.
The most striking thing, perhaps, is the obvious pleasure displayed by everyone involved in these truly heady renderings.
The Symphony No. 70 is one of Haydn’s most surprising, witty, brilliant and refreshing essays in this genre. And this is just the way Fey conducts it. It reminds me strongly of his version of the third movement of No. 88, where he brought out the bagpipe drone so startlingly.
Little use is made of vibrato, but Haydn lovers are bound to be captivated by the immense care that has gone into accentuation and phrasing and the way Fey flights the music. Expectably, Fey and his musicians have a whale of a time in the last movement of the “Hunt”, where the skill of the horn players in finding the right colours is almost unexampled. It is here too that Fey’s “weightless” approach really strikes gold. The Symphony No. 75 is quite a rarity, with a magnificent set of variations in the slow movement.
This is the best disc in Fey’s Haydn series since Volume 3 (Symphonies 82, 99, 95).
Christophe Huss, www.classicstodayfrance.com (Frankreich)
Thomas Fey's Haydn series goes from strength to strength, and this is one of the best releases so far. If you want to summarize the brilliance of Fey's period-influenced (but not slavishly so) interpretations, just listen to his handling of the brass parts at the climax of Symphony No. 70's triple-fugue. Those blasts from trumpets and horns that make the music sound so modern, so terrifying, are in the score. But no one has played them as Haydn wrote them before Fey. Similarly, the horn calls in the finale of La Chasse can't possibly be done at the basic presto that Haydn asks for, so Fey very intelligently slows down for them - and they sound wonderful. In short, these are brilliant, sympathetic interpretations, marvelously recorded. Don't miss this release!
David Hurwitz, www.classicstoday.com (USA)
As usual, Thomas Fey interprets this music with unexampled verve, while still managing to expend a commendable degree of care on the finer nuances. He observes the second repeat in all six outer movements, but there is nothing dutiful about his approach. In the first movement of No. 44 the return to the initial paragraphs is given greater amplitude, while the spectacular “false” recapitulation in the corresponding movement of No. 41 is underlined more heavily the second time round. In the preceding bars Fey audaciously slows the tempo even more than before, but miraculously it works! The same is true of the last movement of this symphony, taken at hell-for-leather speed and with irresistible punch and swagger. No. 47, where attention to timbre is essential, is an unmitigated success.
While some earlier versions are not completely eclipsed (Bruno Weil, Adam Fischer), it is fair to say that, memorable as Volume 7 was, this is the finest disc so far in Thomas Fey’s complete Haydn series.
Marc Vignal, Le Monde de la Musique (France)
Choc” de la Musique / CD des Monats, Mai 2008
Fey and the Heidelberger period-instrument orchestra deliver powerful, colorful, lyrical, and altogether delightful performances, performances with crisp textures, sharp attacks, strong rhythms, and a huge sense of humor, in other words, ideal Haydn performances.
Once again, Thomas Fey and his musicians audibly relish the task of putting across what the conductor’s booklet article calls the „affect-laden contrasts“ of this music with maximum energy and verve. The Heidelberg Symphony Orchestra is given another chance to display its magnificent pedigree. Hardly any other present-day ensemble devotes itself to the finer textures of Haydn’s symphonies with greater relish and sensitivity. Thomas Fey chisels the sforzati, speeds are swift, dynamic contrasts are effectively underlined, and there is a razor-blade accuracy in response to all the drama Haydn’s symphonies have to offer. The sound produced by the Heidelberg Symphony is wonderfully lean and feisty, with abrasive brass cutting through the texture and giving a telling rasp to the superbly defined sound picture. Intonation is impeccable throughout, coordination and dovetailing between the different sections of the orchestra are spot-on, the sensitive phrasing makes for highly expressive results. Full of variety and contrast, the faster movements are just as convincing in their forward impulse as the finely judged equilibrium of the lovingly shaped slow movements. The musicians play their hearts out for Thomas Fey, and the results are phenomenal … Another top-quality installment in the ongoing complete Haydn symphony edition by Fey and his orchestra.
Thomas Fey is recording all Haydn’s symphonies. This is the sixth CD in the edition, and if all the others are of this quality the results will be remarkable indeed …
Everyone knows that Heidelberg is only a few miles from Mannheim, but in this case it’s worth reminding ourselves of the fact because Thomas Fey’s superbly thrusting Heidelberg Symphony Orchestra makes Haydn sound like a musical Leonardo da Vinci produced by the Mannheim School … The whirling elegance of the Presto of the 52nd Symphony and the dancing energy generated by the gyrations of the music are put across with such airy grace that you might be tempted to think that Haydn invented the bicycle as well. But what of the gravitas also to be found in this music? Here the almost ten-minute Adagio first movement of the F minor symphony „La passione“ is painted with layers of color that are as delicate as they are intense …
Klassik heute online, Deutschland
Haydn fans will be delighted to learn that Thomas Fey’s complete symphony cycle is back on, though heaven only knows what might happen between now and its completion over the next decade or so. We can only hope, because Fey remains the most exciting Haydn conductor around at present, and this disc only bolsters his reputation. Symphony No. 52 is regarded by many as the finest of all of the „Sturm und Drang“ works, and Fey tears into it with a „take no prisoners“ approach that offers tremendous drive and impact, but at no cost in terms of the quality of the playing. You’ll love the way the horns ring out in the finale, not to mention reveling in the characterfully shaped phrasing in the slow movement (no dead spots here, even with all of the repeats).
My only quibble concerns the presence of the harpsichord continuo, wholly unnecessary and distracting, though the part is discreetly managed. Fey’s wise decision to leave the instrument out of the marvelously gaunt opening slow movement of La Passione only begs the question of what it’s doing there otherwise. This remains a matter of taste, and as it doesn’t detract from what Fey is trying to do, it’s a case of no harm, no foul. Besides, after hearing the symphony’s hurricane of a finale, you’ll be completely won over to the interpretation, as I was.
It’s particularly pleasurable to find the seldom-heard but wacky Symphony No. 58 in this company. Essentially a study in rhythm, the work begins with a quick sonata-form minuet in all but name, but one that constantly breaks into triplet motion as well. The slow movement similarly makes great play with triplets, but the actual minuet has a limp, and is so titled („Menuet alla Zoppa“). The disruption continues in the presto finale, a riot of syncopations that constantly upset the listener’s (and player’s) expectations. Fey takes it swiftly but still allows sufficient time for Haydn’s rhythmic high-jinks to register with ideal weight and impact. Hänssler captures the ensemble in sound of pellucid clarity and realism. Welcome back, and may this series survive to its appointed conclusion!
Classics Today, USA
Here we have one of those fortunate instances where the raised finger of academic correctness is shorter than the conductor’s baton … The complexion of this recording is not dictated by pedantic, know-it-all criticism of earlier approaches. Instead, an unusually originally view of the notes on the page results in a truly revolutionary species of music-making that is not only supremely entertaining but could point the way to an entirely new understanding of these works.
Klassik heute, Deutschland
This stupendous disc contains simply the best recordings of these symphonies currently available. Thomas Fey’s take-no-prisoners approach pays huge dividends. He cultivates a big, rich sonority with vivid wind playing and plenty of presence from the horns. That makes the outer movements of all three symphonies particularly exciting. Notice the contrast between the graceful first subject of „La Reine“ and the Sturm und Drang eruption later on, or the rhythmic tension that Fey brings to the exposition of Symphony No. 84 (no nickname, and so woefully neglected). His fiery attack on the opening of „The Hen“ only makes its subsequent farmyard sounds all the more amusing. None of the three slow movements is truly slow, and Fey understands this, keeping them flowing but preserving their natural elegance. He’s particularly adept at characterizing the variations in No. 85 that so delighted Marie Antoinette. There’s no need to continue: this is simply as good as it gets, and the sonics are stunningly lifelike. Wow!
Classics Today, USA
In terms of sheer drive and rhythmic elasticity, no work by Mozart or Beethoven can really be said to outdo the G minor symphony, written three years before Beethoven’s birth. In fact, some of Mozart’s magnificent G minor works sound like variations or metamorphoses of this archetypical and incredibly expressive symphony. Thomas Fey and the Heidelberg Symphony are unsurpassed in the way they etch the incisive „beat“ of the outer movements without ever lapsing into the soullessness of „sewing-machine“ Haydn … Both here and in the other three symphonies, Fey displays unusual skill in giving even quite simply fashioned slow movements a high degree of gestural and melodic tension, letting them sing out on their own terms. Given the quality of this CD, one can only look forward eagerly to further recordings in the complete edition progressively taking shape.
Klassik heute, Deutschland
What strikes one most forcibly is the unprecedented sonic balance between strings, wind, brass, and timpani … Only very few conductors manage to be so totally convincing in Haydn as Thomas Fey.
Classics Today, Frankreich
Here Fey tackles three of Haydn’s finest symphonies with all the passion, vitality, and energy that we have come to expect of him. His version of Symphony No. 82 is radiant, engrossing, sumptuous, and humorous … He also offers an excellent version of Symphony No. 88, perfectly rounded, full of contrasts, with magnificent precision in the tutti … All this makes the recording an absolute winner, part of a complete edition that in future will be a genuine alternative to the other great recordings we already have!
CD Compact, Spanien
This disc is simply stunning. Thomas Fey and his Heidelberg orchestra attack „The Bear“ with unbridled ferocity and brilliance, offering dazzling evidence of why in their day Haydn’s symphonies came to be regarded as the ultimate examples of orchestral composition. There’s no soft-pedaling here! Listen to the symphony’s finale, to the uninhibited high spirits that characterize its folk-influenced themes, to the complete bravura Fey encourages his players to display (particularly the trumpets and drums). The work’s opening rhythmic tattoos cut through the texture with tremendous force but never become coarse or merely noisy, and the second subject, with the solo bassoon providing the only bass note, seldom has sounded so deliciously faux-naïve. An elegantly flowing Allegretto second movement and rhythmically charged minuet complete this well-nigh perfect picture.
Symphony No. 88, that joyous gem of a piece, makes a similarly powerful impression. Note how Fey, almost alone among conductors, makes sure that you really hear the principal theme of the slow movement’s melodic suspension across the bar line. (The first limb of the tune actually has only five notes--in syncopated rhythm--but most performances smooth out this detail by allowing the solo cello and oboe to yield center stage to the accompaniment’s downbeat in the second bar. This makes it sound as though the phrase has six notes rather than five.) For once you can hear this music with the rhythmic tension that Haydn built into it, and when the trumpet and drums make their belated entrance they hit you with the same shock that audiences in Haydn’s day must have experienced.
The Menuetto of this symphony, or more specifically its trio, offers another classic example of Fey being the first conductor to really „get it right“. How many people have fallen in love with this symphony, and with Haydn in particular, through this enchanting pastoral interlude, with its bagpipe bass line and chirping oboe melody? But who, aside from Fey, really has his bassoon hitting the drones fortissimo as Haydn specifies, and allows the horns similarly to play forte, all in a quiet context? It’s an episode with a Mahlerian wealth of simultaneous dynamic detail, and one in which you will almost never hear what Haydn actually wrote. Well here you finally do, and the result is spectacular. The finale breezes along with crystal clear textures (particularly the triple canon that comprises its second episode), and a coda that strikingly evokes a certain familial resemblance to the end of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony.
Symphony No. 95, the stepchild of the London Symphonies, has been neglected largely because of the mature Haydn’s attitude toward music in minor keys. After working through his terrifying „Sturm und Drang“ middle period Haydn came to treat minor keys not as something tragic, but more as a source of musical color and energy. Audiences used to Mozartian minor-key pathos or Beethoven’s tragic grandeur always have found Haydn’s fundamentally cheerful approach and more obviously intellectual rigor harder to take. And yet this symphony contains in its finale not only one of the most ravishing tunes that Haydn ever penned, but a contrapuntal tour-de-force comparable to what Mozart achieved in the finale of his Jupiter Symphony. As we might have predicted, Fey plays the pants off this finale, but he also injects more forward-driving energy and purpose into the first movement’s half-serious minor-key escapades than any other version. He also wrings every drop of grimness from the third movement Menuet, emotionally speaking the darkest music in the symphony (and how typical of Haydn to shift the expressive center of gravity to this unexpected place!).
Hänssler has captured all of this in sonics that offer both the clarity the music requires and enough space for the climaxes to expand impressively. In a series that has gone from strength to strength, this issue truly stands out as something exceptional. Now for the disclaimer: some readers may have noticed that this writer contributed booklet notes for early issues in this series. This is no longer the case or I wouldn’t be writing this review now. Frankly, it’s much more fun to be able to review the discs and recommend them to you, which is one reason I stopped writing the notes; but if this prior association leads you to question my objectivity then by all means take this into consideration if you are thinking about purchasing this disc. Better yet, try to listen and decide for yourself. There is no finer Haydn symphony disc currently available.
Classics Today, USA
My Top Three focus on a trio of undeservedly neglected super discs. First up, familiar works by a young orchestra and a little-known conductor. I wouldn´t trade Fey´s Haydn for any dozen orchestral discs released this year. It´s that good. Be seated when you listen to the opening of Symphony No.82 („The Bear“) because it´ll knock you off your feet.
Fey´s Haydn is an always surprising, inventive, funny composer whose music bristles with energy and excitement. His orchestra´s whiplash opening leaves every other performance of „The Bear,“ even Bernstein´s, in the dust, and they then answer it with gorgeously projected pianissimo playing. You´ll be converted long before you get to the dashing finale. This bear boogies. It´s not just the speedy tempos either; it´s the pristine balances and chamber music clarity that let you hear details often neglected, the sensitive handling of slow movements throughout these three great symphonies, and the way the sheer joy and vivacity of Haydn´s writing comes across. Fey´s other Haydn discs are nearly as good. His band uses modern instruments with period brass and percussion, but they´d sound musical playing kazoos and balalaikas. The upfront, detailed sonics fit these energetic, revelatory performances like a glove.
The Absolute Sound, USA
The Heidelberg Symphony renders the brilliance of Haydn’s orchestration with stunning virtuosity … Thomas Fey is uncommonly astute in pointing the contrasts in these superb scores.
Fey is not really competing with the radically correct recording by Hogwood because he uses modern instruments (with the exception of the brass). Yet he contrives to draw upon all the resources of „historically informed“ performance practice. … We look forward impatiently to the continuation of the series. Fey and musicians may very well have some mind-blowing surprises in store for us.
Répertoire des disques compacts, Frankreich
Top-flight performances of the utmost finesse.
If Thomas Fey can preserve the care and intelligence with which he has set out on his complete edition of Haydn’s symphonies through to the end of the series, then we shall be witnessing the evolution of a recording by which all others will be judged.
Klassik heute, Deutschland
There is no doubt that here Thomas Fey has given us the best version ever recorded of Symphony No. 64 … The slow movement is deeply moving in the way it explores the border regions between music and silence with an extraordinary feeling for nuance and phrasing … His „Farewell“ symphony is also a real front runner. This complete edition of Haydn’s symphonies could not have got off to a better start.
Le Monde de la Musique, Frankreich
Now that its monumental Bach edition has been accomplished, Hänssler Classic launches another giant project. This CD marks the beginning of a new complete cycle of Joseph Haydn symphonies, to be achieved in 2009 for the 200th anniversary of the composer’s death. And if the same qualitative level is maintained throughout this 10-year span, it’s going to be a wonderful achievement. Thomas Fey has studied with Nikolaus Harnoncourt, and he approaches this music with the same uncompromising attitude of his teacher. Tempos are on the swift side and dynamic contrasts are extreme but never artificial. The balance is just perfect, thanks to the use of brass and timpani on period instruments, which allows the „modern“ strings (played without vibrato) and woodwinds to come out very naturally. But there is more in these recordings than just authenticity. In every piece Fey uncovers the very essence of Haydn, his unpredictable humor as well as his moments of abandon and melancholy. With its sharp-edged but flexible playing, the Heidelberger Sinfoniker reveals itself to be the perfect ensemble to convey the nuances of Haydn’s boundless imagination. This major enterprise benefits from a panoramic recording, at once transparent and coherent. If you like Haydn, don’t miss this one. If you still don’t know if you like Haydn, give it a try and be converted.
Classics Today, USA
The sonic fireworks set off by Heidelberg Symphony Orchestra are unparalleled … This South German band almost makes one forget Harnoncourt.
St. Galler Tagblatt, Schweiz
Immediately appealing is the very special, intriguing mixture of precision and sheerly explosive freshness and zest ... Fey is fond of stark contrasts but he also has the sensibility to plumb the spiritual depths of Haydn’s slow movements.
Attila Csampai in ‚Musik und Theater‘, Schweiz
Thomas Fey is a conductor who takes risks - and brings them off.
Le Monde de la Musique, Frankreich
Though the Heidelberg Symphony play on modern instruments, it is immediately obvious that conductor Thomas Fey once sat at the feet of Nikolaus Harnoncourt and fully endorses his concern for Klangrede. Seldom, if ever, has this music been made to seem so clear and logical.
Fey and his orchestra give the "storm and stress" side of the young composer its full due. The fast movements are full of freshness, played very swiftly but never overdriven, transparency guaranteed. They are also balanced off very naturally against the more wistful and fragile aspects of the music.
Fey is a conductor capable of rethinking a composer's style from the ground up, and producing results that make sense. He has generally done so here. The results, in works often treated as something to play while the audience gets settled in their seats, are not even remotely dull.
Fey’s bristling approach suits the Italian Symphony down to the ground. He brings out all its nervous energy, pays close attention to its formal and structural aspects and also contrives to conjure up a unique and completely congenial atmosphere. Both here and in the more youthful works the Heidelberg Symphony Orchestra operates at the highest level. The historical timbres are ideal for the music and make this performance of the “Italian” symphony a genuine sensation.
Trenchant and sensitive: Apparently impervious to the conventions of traditional interpretation, Fey and his outstanding orchestra tackle these miraculous testimonies to Mendelssohn’s precocity and present them to us as works full of incredible inventiveness and dramatic impetus. Fey steers a very appealing course between the Beethovenian heroics of the C minor symphony and the streamlined, highly polished kind of approach so often thought to be appropriate for this composer. Here Mendelssohn sound refreshingly different: youthful, dynamic, bubbling - and hard-hitting. For once, the sound picture is completely liberated of the hoary old prejudice that Mendelssohn’s music is merely superbly fashioned, with form and content in consummate harmony with one another, beautifully wrought, but slightly „artificial“ rather than truly „felt.“ By ditching this historical ballast Fey’s strong accents and lively tempi contrive to reveal all the youthful impetuosity in the music. In terms of ensemble, phrasing, transparency, and sensitivity the orchestra is second to none ...
Superb selection: Just as intriguing and gripping as the C minor symphony is Mendelssohn’s own version of the String Symphony No. 8 in D major for full orchestra. Here we see him … engaging in fascinating play with motivic elements, whisking them from one key to the next with huge aplomb, and Fey and his marvelous orchestra play them for all they’re worth. As an encore we are given the C minor movement generally known as String Symphony No. 13, in which the teenage Mendelssohn parades all his contrapuntal prowess … The superbly lean, uncluttered sound of the Heidelberg Symphony Orchestra has been beautifully captured by the very immediate and transparent recording. The (sometimes extreme) dynamic shadings are also ideally reflected. An outstanding recording and a serious contender for „best version“ status … It is rare indeed to hear Mendelssohn played with such youthful, unadulterated freshness and vivacity. We greatly look forward to the next installment.
This recording makes it quite clear why Mendelssohn is so often called a classicist. In the two string symphonies the Heidelberg Symphony Orchestra point to the future by looking back to the past. It is especially interesting to encounter the composer’s own version of his 8th String Symphony for full orchestra. Here, as in the Symphony op. 11, Thomas Fey and his band take the original tempi of the outer movements seriously without for one moment putting the phrasing on automatic pilot. As usual, the adventurous interpretation comes across with immaculate instrumental skill. It will be intriguing to see how this complete edition develops.
A delight from beginning to end is the new recording of the important D major String Symphony in Mendelssohn’s own version for full orchestra. The introduction clearly harks back to the theme from Bach’s Art of Fugue, and the work can justly claim to be Mendelssohn’s first genuine essay in the symphonic genre. Fey gives it the shot in the arm it has long been waiting for. All in all, the disk augurs well for this new complete edition.
Thomas Fey and the Heidelberger Sinfoniker present the first volume of what will become the definitive Mendelssohn cycle of the new century! Thomas Fey has been a long-term advocate of the orchestral music of Mendelssohn – a composer he understands. These performances capture the brilliance and fire of the young composer’s imagination at its most luminous. Utilizing the full range of the Heidelberg ensemble’s unique sound, Maestro Fey has assembled several rare and fascinating alternate versions of Mendelssohn’s String Symphonies that the composer himself later orchestrated. This program has no competition in the current catalogue of classical music releases!
New CD captures Mendelssohn's teen spirit
Youthful exuberance describes not only Felix Mendelssohn's early orchestral works; it also aptly depicts the founder and music director of the orchestra that performs Mendelssohn on this new release. (...) Mendelssohn completed his String Symphony No. 8 at age 13. Three days after finishing this work, he drafted a second version, rescoring some passages for wind instruments. On this recording, Thomas Fey and the Heidelberg Symphony perform the version with winds. In this orchestra, the string players use modern instruments but the wind players perform on historic instruments of Mendelssohn's day. You might think of it as the best of both worlds. (...)
For the Symphony No. 1, his first mature symphony, Mendelssohn chose the key of C minor, the same key as Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. That famous piece seems to permeate every pore of Mendelssohn's First. The opening movement lunges out of the gate with bold chords that set the mood right away. Mendelssohn waits for no one. He states the opening theme within the first minute of the first movement. Fey keeps the tempo moving, as if to say, "Catch me if you can." Mendelssohn was just 15 when he composed this work. The racing tempo implies he was bursting with ideas. The Heidelberg Symphony Orchestra's bright, energetic quality matches Mendelssohn's conception of youthful joy in his Symphony No. 1. (...)
As a composer, Mendelssohn may not usually be ranked at the same artistic level as Beethoven or Mozart, yet this recording with Thomas Fey and the Heidelberg Symphony Orchestra will give you a new appreciation for what this impressive young prodigy had to offer.
Minnesota Public Radio (USA)
Fey presents us with another iridescent CD, adventurous and full of unexpected originality. His Beethoven flares and crackles, almost exploding under the tension. He combines detailed precision and irresistible impetus with an astonishingly intelligent reading of the score … In these two symphonies none of his closest rivals - Norrington, Harnoncourt, Gardiner - have scaled such heights.
Répertoire des disques compacts, Frankreich
The Fourth is given a spirited performance with notable rhythmic impetus and the kind of structural clarity one expects from chamber music, interspersed with the sonic trenchancy of the tutti passages. The strings are miraculously precise and cultured … The „Pastoral“ is sheer poetry … While some star conductors (like Ozawa) have little to say in their recordings for the major labels and are still praised to the skies, Fey and his band are quietly producing a masterly and freshly minted Beethoven cycle with a minimum of marketing hype.
CD Compact, Spanien
Nearly two years after launching a projected Beethoven cycle with the First and Second Symphonies, Thomas Fey follows with numbers Four and Six. Superlatives are dangerous, yet I gladly risk them on behalf of this stunning release. Put simply, these are the most arrestingly detailed, vibrantly executed, emotionally generous, and utterly alive performances of Beethoven’s Fourth and Sixth Symphonies I’ve heard in many a moon. The sense of foreboding and mystery in the Fourth’s Adagio introduction is heightened by the conductor’s pinpointed attention to Beethoven’s careful dynamic gradations. Pungent brass chording vivifies the transition into a fleet Allegro Vivace that drives home the combative uplift suggested by the composer’s biting accents and syncopated phrasings. In the slow movement, listen to how the various two-note phrases are treated not like accompaniments but accomplices, while the poignant, lyrical violin theme gains back its long-eroded edge. To be certain, other conductors have taken the Finale at a precipitous clip with no notes garbled or lost (Zinman, for example, and Abbado with the Berlin Philharmonic), but Fey’s punchier bass lines, more characterful wind/brass dialogues, and touch of vermouth in the string tone take top honors.
Similarly, the Pastorale’s bucolic subtext is underlined by the earthy tints conjured up by the string section’s minimum vibrato policy. Its sustained lines shimmer like woven glass against the beautifully played wind solos in the Szene am Bach. Notice also how Fey obtains grittier-than-usual accentuation in the trio, and folksier solos. Many conductors plow through the Storm, leaving orchestral details to fend for themselves. By contrast, Fey plays the Allegro so that its component parts can be sensibly shaped, and, more importantly, to establish an insidious, organic transition into the Finale. When the latter sounds harmonically static and sloshy in performance, that’s not Beethoven’s fault. Here Fey’s prismatically balanced orchestral choirs are akin to a restored painting, where the old suddenly becomes not just new, but meaningful again. Even if you already own one or more recorded versions of these amazing scores, seriously consider Thomas Fey and his crackerjack musicians. A revelation!
Classics Today, USA
The first movement of the First Symphony finds the Heidelberg Symphony Orchestra in fine fettle, gleefully pointing up the instrumental rough-and-tumble and probing the dialectics of the development section with point and poise. No doubt about it, the sheer impertinence of that first dominant seventh chord is the mood that informs the proceedings here throughout. Fey takes a refreshingly unconventional view, sustaining the overall cohesion between the movements and never straying from the score. The orchestra ensures lucid, transparent textures but is certainly not short of sheer gutsiness when it’s called for. The start of the last movement of the First is almost Brucknerian in its breadth. The complex structures of the first movement of the Second are excellently served. And the misterioso element that suffuses the slow introduction is never thrown off balance by the scrupulously observed accents, only made the richer for the element of unrest they contribute ... All in all, Fey’s Beethoven looks set fair for success.
Klassik heute, Deutschland
No sooner had Thomas Fey begun a complete Haydn Symphony cycle than the first volume of his Beethoven cycle is released. And it’s bloody great! Yes, there are more Beethoven cycles out there than functioning payphones (remember them?), including others by conductors who hail from the period performance side of the Beethovenian tracks. But Fey not only is a first class musician; he’s a vibrant interpreter with a mind of his own, and something to say. He favors period percussion and brass por their pungent, cutting-edge sound, while opting for a modern string section’s flexibility of tone and projection. Once past the introduction, the First Symphony’s opening movement takes off at a near-breakneck, opera buffa clip yet with no sacrifice in control or articulation. The Andante is graceful and transparent, while the lithe Scherzo dances rather than hurls forward.
By contrast, Fey unravels the Second Symphony in broader brushstrokes and richer orchestral colors. Unlike many conductors, he doesn’t misread the slow movement’s Larghetto marking as an Andante, and achieves a spooky, glass-harmonica type of sound from the massed strings, who’ve checked their collective vibrato at the studio door. The Scherzo has big bones and lilting accents, while the Finale pushes ahead in a relentless, yet non-rushing surge of orchestral energy. These characterful performances are also exceedingly well recorded. Few Beethoven cycles have gotten off to as exciting and heady a start as this one. Bring on the Eroica!
Classics Today, USA
Surely, one might think, there is no shortage of good recordings of Beethoven’s symphonies. Do we really need the Heidelberg Symphony Orchestra to give us another one? In fact, this production is by no means superfluous, displaying as it does a distinctive profile of its own. Technically, the performances are immaculate and Fey’s Beethoven, with its vehement accents and dynamic contrasts, leaves us in no doubt about the revolutionary nature of the challenging symphonic idiom finding utterance here for the first time. With its teasing ‚delaying tactics’, the slow introduction to the last movement of the First may take its bearings from similar jokes in Haydn’s works, but the language it speaks is a very different one ... As played here, Beethoven’s first essays in the symphonic form clearly adumbrate the Eroica. It is this that makes the recording special.
Just how far Beethoven had moved away from his predecessors in his early symphonies is something Thomas Fey makes abundantly clear in this recording, perhaps not for the first time but certainly with unusual gusto. The music is full to bursting with explosive energy, its sheer animal energy bordering on the visceral in the dissonant horn entries in the first movement of the Second and revolutionary in the starkness of the contrasts and an assertion of individuality that just stops short of the egocentric. Fey has studied the scores carefully and follows them meticulously right down to the smallest dynamic detail. But we are never in doubt of his intentions. His is in an interpretation in its own right, not merely an ‚execution’ of the score ... He sees these two symphonies as one continuous ascent toward the great heroic Third.
This Beethoven set is on a par with David Zinman’s superb account with Zurich’s Tonhalle orchestra. The remarkably swift tempi are supple and elastic, the dynamics of the argument brilliantly sustained throughout, the phrasing unusually telling and structurally literate. The orchestra takes a no-holds-barred, virtuoso, immensely high-spirited view of its task, playing the music for all it’s worth without ever going over the top. The string forces are reduced, giving the winds and brass a slight edge in the overall sound picture, so that tuttis are more colorful, more variegated, more abrasive than usual. The Heidelberg musicians are exemplary in their care for detail so that musical paragraphs reappearing at a later stage are suddenly charged with new meanings ... One can only hope the recording gets the attention it deserves.
(Musik:5 Sterne Klang:5 Sterne)
Sampling the disc one is quickly bowled over. The recording is a remarkable product of the second generation of authentic period renderings and the prominent brass and percussion literally jolt the listener out of the somnolence typically induced by the standard response to Beethoven as the monumental classical hero ... Not for some time have we had such a gamesome, bracing view of Beethoven’s 1st and 2nd symphonies. Take the last movement of the First. After the initial shattering whack, the scale figures start groping their way upward, tentative and mysterious, only to be suddenly transformed into pure Italianate brio generating so much incandescent drive and infectious wit that the whole movement never looks back. The playing is fleet, spick and span, articulate. The brass is both radiant and assertive, the tempos daring and mordant, and in the darker episodes the orchestra finds the collective thrust and tenacity, the absolute unanimity of response that only springs from genuinely passionate commitment. Fey and the Heidelberg Symphony reestablish Beethoven as the young daredevil, the musical tearaway, who though fully conversant with tradition has no compunction about galvanizing the legacy left him by Mozart and Haydn into something all his own. This is someone who was going places and knew it.
Klassik online, Deutschland
Conductor Thomas Fey founded the Schlierbach Chamber Orchestra in 1987 and in 1993 it grew into the Heidelberg Symphony Orchestra. Fey and his band have already notched up a large number of recordings well received all over the world. Their disc of Beethoven’s Fourth and Sixth Symphonies, for instance, was nominated for the Cannes Classical Award. Fey is also very much into historically informed performance practice and this makes itself felt in every bar of this beautifully engineered CD of overtures by Salieri, Mozart, Beethoven, Rossini and Brahms, all recorded live. Fey’s approach to Rossini and Mozart, in particular, is remarkable for the way he provides new and detailed perspectives on the music that reach out and grab the listener’s interest. The overtures to Figaro and the Entführung are full of spirit and dramatic punch without in any way forfeiting beauty of sound in the process. The Beethoven is not rushed, as in Zinman’s version, while Brahms’ Academic Festival Overture is taken by the horns and kept moving at a cracking pace. A winner of a disc, featuring a young and extremely vital orchestra of outstanding musicianship.
Thurgauer Zeitung (Schweiz)
This is one of the best recordings featuring the viola d’amore that I have ever heard, taking up the cudgels for an underrated composer and a long-forgotten instrument. Gunter Teuffel’s viola sings out warmly in the lower register, further up the stave his tone is jubilant without any hint of astringency. The Heidelberg Symphony Orchestra accompanies him with crackling vitality and contagious verve.
Die Viola, Deutschland
Fey and the baroque specialists of the Heidelberg Symphony Orchestra playing on period instruments have some formidable rivals to face up to (Kuijken, Junghänel) but they meet the challenge with ease. Thomas Fey’s passion for Handel is obviously shared by the players. Most of the music here is serious, minor-key stuff. The players respond with ardent vehemence, with a very natural, warts-and-all approach that is not afraid to take risks.
Scala – Kultur im Rhein-Neckar-Dreieck, Deutschland
Fey rubs Handel up the wrong way, creating a troubled, stormy atmosphere … In terms of instrumental prowess the „La Passione“ ensemble is clearly superior to the Concentus Musicus of Vienna on Harnoncourt’s older recording.
Klassik heute online, Deutschland
The bright tonal palette and the infectious gusto of the Schlierbach Chamber Orchestra under Thomas Fey literally reach out and grab the listener ... They leave us in no doubt that pianist Gerrit Zitterbart is fortunate indeed in having so characterful an ensemble to assist him in his effervescent, intelligent readings of these early Mozart concertos. A case in point is the last movement of the ‚Jeunehomme’ concerto, rarely heard so deftly inflected and irrepressibly mercurial as it is here.
(Musik:1 Sterne Klang:1 Sterne)
Klassik heute, Deutschland
As with his splendid Hänssler release devoted to Haydn keyboard concertos, pianist Gerrit Zitterbart again applies his stylish sensitivity to a trio of early Mozart concertos. The performances easily rank with the finest recordings of these works now available. Although Zitterbart plays on a top-of-the-line Bösendorfer Imperial Grand, he takes subtle advantage of his instrument’s plangent, unhomogenized timbres that suggest a fortepiano’s registral differentiation. In turn, Thomas Fey’s Schlierbacher Kammerorchester proves that the gaunt and tart sonorities characterizing period instrument ensembles can be achieved with arguably more flexible results on modern instruments, although Fey uses natural horns instead of their stabler modern counterparts. The conductor, to be certain, doesn’t entirely avoid those self-conscious dynamic swells that are as mannered today as string portamentos were in the late 19th century, yet he doesn’t make a habit of them. More importantly, you sense that conductor and pianist are perpetually engaged in playful dialogue, responding to each other’s phrases as a pair of old friends might pick up each other’s sentences in midair. There’s just enough ornamentation to keep the listener on guard (catch Zitterbart’s cute little turns at the outset of the E-flat concerto’s Rondo theme), but never more than necessary. You never can get enough Mozart from vibrant, caring musicians like these; is more on the way?
Classics Today, USA
The young German musicians give us wonderful interpretations of Mozart’s four „Pasticcio“ concertos ... The stylistic correctness is there, but what really counts is the gusto, the expressiveness and the infectious drama of the playing ... Gerrit Zitterbart and Thomas Fey are an ideal twosome, a partnership of the kind one rarely encounters.
Le Monde de la Musique, Frankreich
Zitterbart is magnificent at responding to the demands of these works, foregrounding the wit and the free-wheeling vitality of the outer movements. Under Thomas Fey’s direction the Schlierbach Chamber Orchestra performs with virtuoso precision, following the soloist wherever he goes and translating the finesse of these scores into equally sensitive sound.
Piano News, Deutschland
Zitterbart is in wonderful form ... The Schlierbach Chamber Orchestra matches him all the way. An interpretation of supreme clarity.
(Musik: 5 Sterne Klang: 5 Sterne)
Vivaldi lived at a time when the elemental forces of nature were still a very real threat. When the famous violin virtuoso wrote the Quattro Stagione concertos for violin and strings people knew only too well that getting caught a long way from home in a snowstorm was not a prospect to be laughed off lightly. Soloist Matthias Metzger and the Heidelberg Symphony Orchestra under Thomas Fey play these works with a radical disregard for all the things that make modern life so comfortable and convenient, from central heating to plushy string vibrato...With stunning instrumental immediacy they not only give a superlatively imaginative rendering of these highly realistic musical depictions of the various seasons but also an appropriately drastic account of existential human fear in the face of the unpredictable forces of nature. In this way Vivaldi’s long-suffering ‘hit’ is reinstated for what it is, a fascinatingly graphic and highly eventful piece of tone-painting. Only rarely has one heard these pieces played more excitingly or with such regard for their undoubted riches. In short, a feast for listeners with an ear for the unusual and a genuine collector’s item.
For its tenth anniversary Heidelberg’s front-line freelance orchestra has allowed itself the luxury of a live recording of the New Year’s concert 2004. Striking as ever is the stylistic versatility of the orchestra, with an Academic Festival Overture that could hardly be more festive, exhilarating, and keenly profiled.
Stadtmagazin meier, Deutschland